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Personal Backup

David L. Harris

Washington Apple Pi Journal, July/August 1999, p. 13, reprint information

Backing up at least your data files is always recommended as one of the top priorities for any computer user. But if it is a difficult chore, it is less likely to be done. I have used Personal Backup since I got it with my Zip drive in 1995. It may not be the most sophisticated backup hardware, but I find it easy to use--and therefore, I actually use it--after almost every computer session. Peace of mind...

Figure 1

Personal Backup is low-cost, generally easy-to-use software from ASD Software, for backing up your hard drive to another hard drive, floppies, Zip, or Jaz disks, plus SyQuest or magneto-optical cartridges. It generally will not work with DAT tapes or CD/DVD discs. It will back up data to another drive on a network.

Personal Backup produces copies of your files the same way the Finder does, not compressed or coded in any way, so that the backed-up files can be immediately accessed, without the need for any additional software to recover them. One thing it cannot do is save blocks of data that are so large that they must be split across several disks. If you can divide information that you want to back up into parts small enough to put on one disk at a time, Personal Backup will do that just fine.

Personal Backup is a Control Panel. If you have enough room on your Menu Bar, it will put up an access menu there. If not, you can turn off its menu and access it in the Control Panels folder, or put an alias of it elsewhere (I have mine in my Favorites folder).

So that you can decide if Personal Backup is for you, I will attempt to show, with pictures, how to use it.

Figure 2

Getting Started and Setting Up

Figure 1 shows Personal Backup when you first start it. In order to back up anything, you must first create a "script" to tell the program where to find the material, what to back up, and to what drive to copy it. Click on the "New" button and you see the Configuration panel, Figure 2. It has buttons to locate the Source and Destination of the files to be copied. In each case you navigate with the familiar Macintosh dialog box to choose the source drive and file or folder, and the destination drive and folder.

Figure 3

Figure 3 shows that I have chosen source and destination drives, and I am going to back up the contents of a folder, which I named "Internet" on both the drives. There are controls for setting times for a backup to automatically occur, as well as other options. At this point the "Exceptions" button is available; I can define some of the contents of the Internet folder that I do not want backed up--for instance, maybe a Web browser's cache folder. See Figure 4. Add items to the exceptions category with the "Add" button.

Figure 4

Clicking on the Configure button at the lower right of Figure 3 produces what you see in Figure 5: backup options. These are pretty self-explanatory. You can set different ones for each Source item. I have some folders whose contents I back up without regard to what files may have changed or been deleted within them. With others, before I back up, I have Personal Backup show me a list of items that are in the Destination folder but not in the Source folder.

Figure 5

Figure 6 shows that I have created an entire script list of folders to back up. I usually name those folders on the source and destination disks with the same name. I have clicked on the Internet folder, and all the buttons at the bottom of the panel are available.

Figure 6

Backing Up

Now I click on "Back up;" see Figure 7. I set the Internet script to always inform me if there are files in the destination folder that are not in the source folder. If I do nothing but click "OK," all those files will be deleted, and a new set written to the destination Internet folder from the source Internet folder. That is indicated by the little trash cans to the left of each file name. Those are files on the destination drive that are not in the source. Sometimes I discover I deleted a source file, but now want to keep it. By clicking on the trash can, I can choose to keep the file in the destination, even though it has been deleted from the source.

Figure 7

Once I have decided what to do with possible orphan files, I click OK; the result is shown in Figure 8. Personal Backup shows the files that are being copied or deleted. It only copies files that have been changed or are new; it does not copy unchanged ones. And the process is very rapid--usually too fast to see most of the file names.

Figure 8


As you can see from many of the illustrations, help is usually a button away. Figure 9 shows an example.

Figure 9

Other Options

By referring to Figure 6 again, you can see that it is also possible to synchronize files between two sources. This is useful if you have two computers, perhaps a desktop and a PowerBook, with many files that are the same. You can use Personal Backup to compare the two, replacing older files with newer ones, whichever computer has the newer version. I have not used this feature.

There is also, from the pulldown menu at the upper center, an option to record keystrokes. This is another way of preserving data in case of catastrophe. See Figure 10. I haven't used this option (you can see that it is turned off, while backup is turned on).

Figure 10

Personal Experience

I used Personal Backup with my Performa 475, and backed up to Zip disks. When I got my B&W G3, I used it the same way. But Zip disks are too small to back up many entire folders these days. I bought a backup 8 GB IDE hard drive, and formatted it as HFS+. Personal Backup failed to cope with the changes: it usually complained that my 8 GB disk was full, and it could not copy files to it. I had to upgrade to a newer version: 1.2.3. The upgrade cured these problems--most of the time. Even though version 1.2.3 is supposed to be HFS+ compatible, unfortunately it still occasionally says that my backup drive is full, though it contains gigabytes of free space. I have found that by deleting a sub-folder or its contents on the backup drive, I can get Personal Backup to complete a backup. But only experience, and a sense of which sub-folders have probably been written to in a computer session, let me guess which is probably the offending one. This bug, if it is not confined to my system, makes me hesitate to recommend Personal Backup to its most likely audience: new or average home users.

Except for the bug's sporadic appearance, once the scripts are set up, using Personal Backup is extremely easy. Because my computer is not always on, I do not use the automatic backup options. All I do is launch the program (I have the menubar menu turned off), click on the folder to be backed up, or shift-click on a range of folders, then click the Back up button. It goes through the process, showing you, if you have chosen the option, which destination files are not in the source folder, then copying files rapidly. A couple of minutes at the very most to back up all my frequently-changed folders to the second hard drive. If I have an item set up to back up to a Zip disk, I just insert the disk and click to back up. Personal Backup will request the disk if it is not in the drive.

Because backing up is so easy, I actually do it.

Wish list?

1. Fix the bug that makes Personal Backup sometimes think my backup drive is full. (I have not read about this happening to anyone else. I also have not discovered a pattern to when it appears.)

2. Make the scripts movable. The scrollable list of items to be backed up appears in the order in which you create them. I have found no easy way to change this. If you could drag items in the list up and down, it would make backing up a group easier. The order in which you create them is not necessarily the order in which you use them most frequently. It is possible, on the other hand, to shift-click a range of adjacent items, or Command-click ones that are not adjacent, to back up more than one folder with a single click of the Back up button.


Personal Backup is now at version 1.2.4, which is said to be OS 9 compatible. It may be downloaded from ASD Software's Web site at http://www.asdsoft.com. The cost is $49. It may also be available from Macintosh resellers. With the current version, 1.2.4, the minimum recommended system is a Mac SE, System 7.0, and 4MB RAM.